:SMALL MODULAR REACTORS ( SMRS):A report on the ‘Role of Small Modular Reactors in the energy transition’ was recently released by the NITI Aayog . Niti Aayog membrane and scientist V K Saraswat suggested that the  government should focus on setting up small modular reactors as it would help meet the country's energy needs and also in replacing aging thermal power plants.

What is the benefit of small modular  reactors?

Small modular reactors (SMRs) offer several benefits in comparison to conventional large-scale nuclear reactors:

1. Flexibility and scalability: SMRs are designed to be smaller in size and capacity, typically ranging from 10 to 300 megawatts. Their compactness allows for easier transportation, installation, and operation at both centralized and decentralized locations. This makes them suitable for various applications, including remote areas, small grids, and industrial complexes.

2. Enhanced safety: SMRs incorporate advanced safety features, including passive cooling systems, inherent shutdown mechanisms, and robust containment structures. Their smaller size also reduces potential risks and consequences associated with accidents or meltdowns.

3. Cost-effectiveness: SMRs have the potential to reduce capital costs compared to traditional large reactors due to their standardized design, modular fabrication, and assembly-line manufacturing processes. They can be produced in factories, which leads to improved quality control and shortened construction timeframes. Additionally, their smaller size enables easier maintenance and reduced operational costs.

4. Energy diversity and grid stability: SMRs can provide electricity to areas that lack access or have limited grid capacity. They offer an alternative to fossil fuels, helping in diversifying the energy mix and reducing carbon emissions. Furthermore, their modular nature allows for incremental deployment, enabling a more gradual transition and integration with existing grid systems.

5. Compatibility with renewable energy: SMRs could complement intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind by providing baseload power. They offer a stable and continuous power supply, capable of compensating for the variability of renewable sources, thereby enhancing grid stability and reliability.

6. Fuel efficiency and waste reduction: SMRs often utilize advanced fuel technologies, such as high-temperature gas-cooled reactors or liquid metal cooled reactors. These designs can maximize fuel utilization, reduce waste production, and potentially enable the use of recycled nuclear fuel.

Overall, small modular reactors offer advantages in terms of flexibility, safety, cost, energy diversity, grid stability, and fuel efficiency, making them an appealing option for future nuclear power generation.

About Small Modular reactors ( SMRS)

●As per the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the SMRs are advanced nuclear reactors with a power generation capacity ranging from less than 30 MWe to 300+ MWe.  
■Roots of SMRs can be traced back to 1940s-1950s when small capacity nuclear reactors of various designs were used for military purposes.

● Small modular reactors ( SMRs) are advanced nuclear reactors that have a power capacity of up to 300 MW( e) per unit, which is about one__ third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors. 

● The SMR is relatively a nascent concept, but they can make nuclear energy more scalable and flexible. 

■ It is projected that  up to 21GW of SMRs could be added globally by 2035, making up approximately 3% of total installed nuclear capacity. 

■ According to the International Atomic Energy Agency ( IAEA), more than 70 SMR concepts are currently under development in 18 countries. 

■ The global market for SMRs is experted to be $300 billion a year by 2040.


 ■Small- physically a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor. 

■ Modular- making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation.

 ■ Reactors- harnessing nuclear fission to generate heat to produce energy.

 ☆ Fission occurs when a neutron slams into a larger atom, forcing it to excite and split into two smaller atoms—also known as fission products. 
 ☆ Additional neutrons are also released that can initiate a chain reaction. 

Current status 

●As of now, two SMR projects have reached at operational stage globally: 

 ● Akademik Lomonosov floating power unit in the Russian Federation.  

●HTR-PM demonstration SMR in China. 

Advantages of SMRS

Smaller Footprint: SMRs can be sited on locations not suitable for larger nuclear power plants.

● Affordable: Prefabricated units of SMRs can be manufactured and then shipped and installed on site. This makes them more affordable to build than large power reactors, which are often designed for a particular location, sometimes leading to construction delays.

● Savings: SMRs offer savings in cost and construction time,and they can be deployed incrementally to match increasing energy demand. 

● Sustainable Development: It can play a key role in the clean energy transition, while also helping countries address the Sustainable Development Goal( SDGs).

● Reduced Fuel Requirements: SMRs have reduced fuel requirements. Power plants based on SMRs may require less frequent refuelling, every 3 to 7 years, in comparison to between 1 and 2 years for conventional plants.Some SMRs are designed to operate for up to 30 years without refuelling. 


● Adaptable and scalable

 • Longer refuelling interval

 • Compact design

 •   Passive safety features  



● SMRs can be scaled up or down to supply more or less power. 

●SMR-based power plants might only need to refuel every three to seven years, as opposed to every one to two years for traditional plants.

● Land implications in the case of SMRs are less as compared to land requirements for large reactors and renewable energy sources

●Its reliance on the laws of physics to shut down and cool the reactor under abnormal circumstances, provide inherent safety. 

 ■ In most cases, these technologies don’t need a power supply and can handle accidents without the assistance of a person or a computer. 

 ■A molten salt reactor with a freeze stopper is an example of a passive safety mechanism

 ●Low capital outlay and/ or a phased capital expenditure is needed.

  ■Also they have the adaptability to allow co-generation, supply heat for desalination and manufacturing etc.
 ■When coupled with variable energy sources SMRs can mitigate fluctuations on a daily and seasonal basis.

Challenges of SMRs

 ●Technology choice issue: More than 80 SMR designs are at different stages of development and licensing. Their simultaneous deployment could create regulatory challenges and may also take away some degree of cost optimization. 

 ● Financing: According to the IEA, annual global investment required for nuclear power expansion is around USD 100 billion by 2030.

  ■ Also, private capital only marginally gets invested in the SMR industry and not to the level of the needed requirement.

  ● Licensing challenges: Newly developed SMR technologies may find it difficult to accommodate in the existing licensing process. 
● Supply chain issues: Supply chains for the SMR industry may need consolidation in order to capitalise on economies of scale, as witnessed in the aviation industry.  

● Safeguards challenges: In most countries, novel SMR technologies will require the application of international safeguards typically in collaboration with the relevant governments and industry.

 ●Storage and Disposal: Even SMRs produce radioactive waste from spent fuel and require spent fuel storage & disposal facilities.


● Microreactors are small module nuclear power plants that have a capacity of fewer than 10 megawatts ( MW).

● Although the technology has not been commercially demonstrated yet, several designs are moving through licensing in North America and Europe,  with anticipated demonstrations in the next few years.

● They are expected to operate for years without refueling including the need to generate power on a small scale in remote locations, at deployed military installations, and in Locations recovering from natural disasters. 

Way ahead for adoption of SMRs 

●Updating regulatory frameworks: The nuclear regulatory framework should be comprehensive to allow various kinds of SMR technologies and designs.

 ● Updated safety assessment methodology: Define emergency planning zone for SMRs, follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for safe handling of spent-fuel and reprocessing. 

 ● Collaborative Framework: Stakeholders need to share, best practices and regulatory insights at an early stage of technology development. 
 ● Standardisation of design: It will open the possibility of repetitive manufacturing in a better qualitycontrolled environment of a factory including Industry 4.0 paradigm.  

● Catalyse private investment: This could be done through inclusion in green taxonomy and utilization of innovative financing instruments such as blended finance, green bonds, etc. 

●Human resource: Ensure availability of required skilled personnel across the value chain of engineering, design, testing, inspection, construction, etc.

International Nuclear Liability Conventions :

 ●Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage, 1963 

 ●Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, 1997

 ● Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy, 1960  

●Joint Protocol Relating to the Application of the Vienna Convention and the Paris Convention, 1988 Brussels Supplementary Convention to the Paris Convention, 1963.

Concerns related to SMRs:

Nuclear waste generation: SMRs are inferior to conventional reactors with respect to radioactive waste generation, management requirements, and disposal options.

■ Economies of Scale: SMRs produce relatively small amounts of electricity in comparison to large nuclear power plants. SMRs will, therefore, cost more than large reactors for each unit ( megawatt) of generation capacity. 

■ Lack of regulations: Regulatory and other barriers preventing their construction are substantial making process of getting safety approvals for SMRs longer and more expensive. 

● The International Atomic Energy Agency ( IAEA) has established the platform on SMRs and their Applications,  a one  stop shop for countries to coordinate support related to all aspects of SMR development. 

■ The IAEA is the world's centre for cooperation in the nuclear field.

■  It was set up as the world's " Atoms for Peace " organization in 1957  within the United Nations family.

■ The Agency works with its  Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies 


 SMR may complement large-size reactors in many countries to increase the nuclear share in their energy mix and achieve Net Zero Emissions goals. The respective governments and local authorities have to play a major role in consensus building towards nuclear energy by engaging relevant stakeholders. SMRs hold the promise for successful commercial development by offering enhanced safety, security, and flexibility for all applications. IAEA has established the Platform on SMRs and their Applications, a one__ stop shop for countries to coordinate support related to all aspects of SMRs development. 

However,  this must be advanced by enhanced and informed licensing that recognizes the advantages of the SMRs safety designs, fabrication quality,  reduced public risk, and deployment flexibility. 


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